A Bintel Brief
Review by Mavis Manus

Pacific Resident Theatre delves deep into Jewish immigrant history with its digital production of A BINTEL BRIEF (“A Bundle of Letters”). The letters were addressed over a 60-year period to the editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, the paper of choice of the Yiddish-speaking, first-generation Jews in New York City. Confronted with a strange new world–-and a brand-new language-–the immigrants turned to the Forward’s advice column for help and guidance.

Carol Rusoff has done a splendid job in selecting some of the best letters (translated into English and edited by Isaac Metzger) and working with a 14-person cast to bring them to life in a theatrical and compelling way. Her use of the Zoom format was masterful: the actors may have been separated from each other by social-distancing restrictions but they handled the text smoothly and flawlessly, delivering their lines in a variety of voices and attitudes. From time to time a Klezmer musician (Horacio Romero) punctuated the action with his wailing clarinet while a montage of photos from the Lower East Side with its tenements and tumultuous street life filled the screen.

The main character in A BINTEL BRIEF–-in effect, the Forward’s “Dear Abie”–-was Abraham Cahan. As skillfully portrayed by Robert Lesser, Cahan dispensed advice to his readers in a wise, patriarchal way. He was generally modern and progressive in outlook. When, for example, a married woman wrote complaining about her husband, who objected to her going to night school twice a week, Cahan defended her right to an education. But when it came time to advise a young man who had fallen in love with a non-Jewish girl and wanted to marry her, he responded angrily and sourly, denouncing him for even thinking such a heinous thing.

“You’re from two different worlds,” he tells him. “Forget her! Love alone can not fill a life!”

The documentary style utilized by Rusoff and producer Marilyn Fox works well throughout and made for an entertaining and engrossing experience. A BINTEL BRIEF pays tribute to the world of our fathers in praiseworthy, moving fashion...and left this reviewer wishing for more.